MORE THAN 3 million package holidays are still to be sold this summer, according to Airtours, Britain's second biggest tour operator. The company claims that of the 11 million packages available for summer, only 70 per cent have been bought.
Harry Coe, Airtours director, said the bulk of the availability was for the first part of this month - until most schools break up for summer holidays in the third week of July. The areas where availability is greatest include the eastern Mediterranean, especially Cyprus, and Florida.
'There is always discounting in the package holiday business, it is just a question of how much discounting - it is a matter of degree. This summer there is substantially less discounting than last year,' Mr Coe said.
There may be fewer discounted holidays on the market, but prices remain attractive. Late availability deals (see 'Last-minute flights' and 'Late packages' below) include return seat-only charter deals to many destinations in the Mediterranean for less than pounds 100 - and inclusive packages from about pounds 120.
The package holiday industry has had a largely indifferent year - the total market is expected to grow by no more than 5 per cent this summer. Airtours, however, has recovered from its failure to acquire Owners Abroad earlier this spring by embarking on a heavy spending spree. It bought the Pickfords chain last year and last month acquired the Hogg Robinson group. This week it completed the purchase of Cardiff-based tour operator Aspro Holidays.
Airtours has now taken the number two spot from Owners Abroad, and is also the owner of the second biggest chain of travel agents.
In theory, Airtours has much to fear if the Office of Fair Trading inquiry into the package holiday market results in an investigation by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.
However, David Crossland, Airtours chairman, seems unconcerned. He is ready to pre- empt any recommendations by placing notices in Pickfords and Hogg Robinson offices informing customers that the agencies are owned by Airtours, which pays staff an incentive for selling its products.
The OFT, no doubt, will be interested to learn that since this incentive scheme began, sales of Airtours holidays through Pickfords have increased by 50 per cent. Mr Crossland, however, says that Airtours sales account for 15- 20 per cent of Pickfords sales and Pickfords sales for 12 per cent of total retail sales. This means that Pickfords' Airtours business amounts to about 2.4 per cent of the total market.
Mr Crossland says he has no plan to challenge Thomson for the number one position in the market.
However, he promises a destination 'surprise' for next year with possible locations to include both South Africa and Australia.
SLUGGISH sales are forcing French specialists to trim prices. For example, Drive France (081- 395 8888) is cutting up to pounds 400 off the price of peak-season holidays. From 17 July, two-week self-catering holidays are available from pounds 799, including return ferry crossing.
Air France has launched a programme of 'Discover France' fares at prices up to 20 per cent below those previously available. For example, a high-season London-to-Bordeaux fare is available for pounds 180 return, a saving of pounds 38 on the Apex fare.
Waymark Holidays (0753 516477) is offering return scheduled flights with British Airways to Lyon, with a week's car hire, from pounds 199 per person throughout July and August.
THE US airline Northwest (0345 747800) is offering a 30- day stand-by Visit USA airpass for pounds 332. The pass, which must be bought in conjunction with a Northwest transatlantic ticket, allows an unlimited number of flights within a one- month period.
Passengers travelling on Northwest flights from the UK to Boston or Minneapolis/St Paul, can also buy a three-coupon confirmed seat pass for pounds 250 - additional coupons can be bought for pounds 66 each. Each coupon can be exchanged for one internal flight anywhere on Northwest's network.
Dublin pub crawl
THE Dublin Literary Pub Crawl offers a guided tour of Dublin pubs in the company of actors performing the works of the city's famous writers. The tour, which costs pounds 6, starts at the Bailey in Duke Street and includes visits to Mulligan's, the Norseman and O'Neill's. The tour operates every night, except Friday, until the end of September. Bookings can be made at the O'Connell Street Tourist Office or by telephoning Dublin 010 353 1 540228.
Avro (0293 567916): 8 July Gatwick to Orlando, 14 nights, pounds 249; 9 July Manchester to Orlando, seven/14 nights, pounds 235; 10 July Manchester to Palma, seven/14 nights, pounds 129; 12 July Gatwick to Alicante, seven/14 nights, pounds 95; 14 July Gatwick to Dalaman, seven/14 nights, pounds 129; 17 July Gatwick to Ibiza, seven/14 nights, pounds 139.
Globetrotters (071-924 2532): Until the end of December (apart from August when a pounds 100 supplement applies) a return flight from London to Cape Town with Air Namibia costs pounds 462.
Mondial (081-314 1181): 8 and 11 July Gatwick to Vienna, up to 28 days, pounds 135; 9 and 16 July Heathrow to Vienna, seven/14 days, pounds 159; 10 July Birmingham or Bristol to Salzburg, seven/14 days, pounds 165; 10 July Newcastle to Salzburg, seven days, pounds 169.
Trailfinders (071-937 5400): On selected dates in July Birmingham to New York pounds 219; Manchester to Los Angeles pounds 274.
Inntravel Shortbreaks (0439 71111): 10 July Gatwick to Toulouse, six-night fly-drive tour of the Tarn, Lot and Dordogne, pounds 565 per person
Owners Abroad (061-745 7000): 10 July Gatwick to Malta, seven nights room only, pounds 109; 11 July Gatwick to Zante, seven nights bed and breakfast, pounds 229; 13 July Gatwick to Tenerife, 14 nights self-catering, pounds 279; 15 July Gatwick to Halkidiki, seven nights self-catering, pounds 159; 17 July Gatwick to Rhodes, seven nights room only, pounds 189.
Sovereign (0293 599988): 10 July Gatwick to Tuscany, seven nights self-catering, pounds 379; 17 July Gatwick to Tuscany, 14 nights self-catering, pounds 473.
Virgin Holidays (0293 617181): Until 29 October, Gatwick to Athens, three nights at the Chandris Hotel, pounds 199; four nights at the Chandris Hotel with a three-night cruise costs pounds 499 per person.